CITY 0 SHEFFIELD UNITED 0
Nationwide League Division 1
16th October 2001
City Weaver, Mettomo, Pearce, Howey, Dunne, Etuhu, Benarbia, Horlock, Tiatto, Goater, Wright-Phillips – subs Granville(unused), Huckerby(unused), Colosimo(80), Nash(unused), Berkovic(74)
Sheffield United Tracey, Kozluk, Murphy, Page, Curle, Suffo, Tonge, Brown, Montgomery, Ndlovu, Asaba – sub Santos(67), Devlin(78), Djaffo(?), Nicholson(unused), de Vogt(unused)
From The Press Box
BLADES CUT ALI DOWN TO SIZE
THE First Division’s Stop Ali campaign reached a new crescendo last night as Sheffield United took spoiling tactics to fresh heights.
It hasn’t taken long for sides to cotton on to the fact that if they block Benarbia then they throw a massive spanner into the Manchester City machine.
For all his well-meaning pre-match vows to attack City at every opportunity, Blades boss Neil Warnock did not ignore the rudiments of defending and chose, like Stockport did so successfully, to assign the Blues’ orchestrator his own personal minder.
Nick Montgomery was the man detailed to lose himself up the Algerian’s shirt and he did the job to perfection as Kevin Keegan’s side struggled woefully to put two passes together in what was a dreadful advertisement for football at any level.
With the Yorkshiremen determined to take as long as possible over every dead ball situation, and referee Steven Bennett producing as inept a performance as humanely possible from one man, it was not hard to understand why frustration boiled over into anger both on the pitch and in the stands.
And how ironic on a night that one or two Blades did passable auditions of Acapulco natives, that it was City’s Kevin Horlock who was dismissed for diving when attempting to win a second-half penalty at the expense of Shaun Murphy.
Not that all those shenanigans should be allowed to overshadow a miserable City display – the third such home showing on the trot in the chase for league points.
If the Blues are to consider themselves serious promotion material they have to be much more clever, more tactically adaptable and a lot less hot-headed than they were against a Sheffield side whose sole purpose was to wind everyone up to breaking point.
It was a plan that worked well though Neil Warnock’s side were aided by both Danny Tiatto and Richard Dunne playing out of position as wing backs.
United were no better than City in an appalling opening 20 minutes during which the only noteworthy episodes were bookings for Blues’ pair Dunne and Lucien Mettomo, though neither of them really merited the lofty view of Mr Bennett’s yellow card, not the first or last time that was to be the case.
Having made three changes, two of them enforced by injuries to Gerard Wiekens and Darren Huckerby, although the latter’s ankle wasn’t so bad that he couldn’t sit on the bench, Keegan’s side lacked any kind of cohesion or rhythm. The game stopped and started with monotonous regularity and Sheffield’s forwards fell over as if poleaxed every time a defender went near them.
However, they cried wolf once too often in the 30th minute when Carl Asaba went down under a challenge from Mettomo and Mr Bennett’s hand followed the well-worn path to his top pocket.
For a moment it appeared City’s Cameroon star would be seeing red on his full debut, but it was Asaba’s theatrical fall which had caught the official’s eye and the striker was booked.
Even that caution had a surreal feel about it, for Asaba was on a stretcher when it was administered and he took no further part in the game, replaced by former Bury and Stockport striker Laurent D’Jaffo.
The incident fired up an increasingly agitated crowd and at last stirred the Blues from their slumbers.
Stuart Pearce released Benarbia down the left and he crossed to the far post where the diving Goater headed against the woodwork, so missing the chance to score his 15th of the season and elevate himself into the Blues all-time top 20 scorers.
Not perturbed by spurning that opening, Goater was back causing problems moments later when he dummied Tiatto’s cross and the ball dropped into the empty space that Shaun WrightPhillips might have occupied had he not been receiving treatment for a nasty blow to the head.
The half-time wake-up call from Keegan appeared to have fallen on deaf ears as United bossed the opening moments of the second period.
Former Maine Road favourite Michael Brown, who scored for the Blades when the sides last met, almost did it again in the 46th minute with a raking drive from 20-yard that Nick Weaver did well to scramble around the post at full stretch.
There was another scare moments later when Patrick Suffo mixed the sublime with the ridiculous when he beat three men on a mazy dribble but then, when he had earned himself space in the box, undid the effect with a woeful shot.
He was much more worried by the impressive Dickson Etuhu’s effort on the hour after more excellent foraging by Goater on the edge of the box. On the basis of `anything you can do’ Weaver returned to the spotlight in the 62nd minute when he twisted to his right to fist away Peter Ndlovu’s swerving effort.
City’s chances of moving into the top three ended when Horlock received his marching orders 14 minutes from time for a silly, self-propelled tumble in the box. At the very least he should have learned from Asaba’s earlier experience.
Fortunately United never made use of their extra man threatening just once when Dunne was forced to produce a tackle to halt Ndlovu.
Instead, it was City who had the best chance to erase the awfulness of the evening when Goater’s stinging right-foot volley from Tiatto’s pass was pushed out for a corner by the athletic Tracey
It was City’s first scoreless draw, in 56 league encounters, so the fans can’t complain too much.
But if someone with a wicked sense of humour offers you the video of last night’s non-action it would be best to politely turn them down.
FROM MANCHESTER EVENING NEWS BY CHRIS BAILEY AND PAUL HINCE